I Found That Trail Online, So It’s Legit, Right?

Before people starting blindly following other people’s GPS tracks online, they would read a park map to know what trails were open in any given area. Well with online services like Strava becoming all the rage over the past couple years comes a whole new breed of ignorance. And given the competitive nature of services like Strava, people may actually be encouraged (unknowingly perhaps) to ride illegal trails!

Let’s take a look at one local trail called Marie Calendar’s as an example. It’s been an illegal trail for years. However, 842 people to date (that we know of) apparently didn’t get that message. That’s 842 people who either chose not to read the map and play dumb or who knowingly accessed this illegal trail. All you have to do is explore the segments such as Marie Calendars to see for yourself. Many of these people have ridden this illegal trail MULTIPLE TIMES! Some people have even posted videos of themselves riding the trail.

Here’s a screenshot of the Strava segment stats for Marie Calendars as of today. What really amazes me about this is that most people on Strava use their real names when they post their times using these illegal trails. Some even post the names of companies they represent! You would think that people representing our local bike shops and bike companies would know better right? Think again.


And here’s the official park map for Laguna Coast Wilderness as of this year. Notice something missing? Also, notice the black box with white lettering warning people to stay on marked trails?

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Map


People often ask, “Is this trail legit? I don’t see any signs saying it’s closed.” People who play dumb aren’t just playing dumb. They ARE dumb. Not only did they miss the signs at the park entrance informing people to “Stay on designated trails and out of closed areas”, but they also missed the maps posted online at official park websites that clearly show which trails are open. In Orange County parks and local California state parks, knowing whether a trail is legal or not in is simple. Ask yourself this question before entering a trail: does it have a sign with a trail name? No? Then it’s illegal. Any more questions?

Take a good look at the entrance of the Marie Calender’s trail. Notice that there are no signs?
Marie Calender's Trail

What’s the Penalty?

Before I discuss the penalty for getting caught using an illegal trail, first you need to understand what the park ranger has in mind when they stop you. This code section is clearly posted on park maps and at the parking areas.

O.C.C.O. Sec. 2-5-46 (a). Trails, trespassing and closed areas.

Designation and Use. The Director may designate horseback riding, bicycle riding and hiking trails in parks, beaches and recreational areas. The Director may also designate closed areas where entry is prohibited in the interest of public convenience or safety or for the preservation and protection of natural or cultural resources. No person may leave a designated trail in any park, beach or recreational area on foot, or on horseback or otherwise, other than for law enforcement, lifesaving or emergency purposes or for park, beach or recreational area management, at other than designated entry or exit points. No person shall enter on foot, or horseback or otherwise, any areas in any park, beach or recreational area or any trail or road which the Director has authorized be posted as a closed area.

Essentially, when you are cited, it’s a misdemeanor trespassing violation. Any misdemeanor can land you in jail. But most of the time you’re let go with a notice to appear in court to explain to the judge why you are so stupid while you beg for mercy in front of people that really deserve to be in court. Note: when you’re in court, they don’t segregate people by violation. You’ll be pleading next to drug addicts, thieves, drunks, homeboys and other people that make up the less desirable portion of the population that now includes YOU. If you hire a really good attorney, you might get the charges dropped down to an infraction or just put informal probation with a warning and some community service time. Key things to remember here: taking time off work to go to court is expensive and attorneys are expensive. Also, how are you going to explain your needed time off to your employer?

How would you like to check yes the box on your next job application that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony?” Seems a bit stupid to miss out on a good future job opportunity just because you had to ride some silly little illegal trail now doesn’t it?

Well apparently, 842 just don’t care that by riding the illegal trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness, their future career path may be in the fast food industry. Do they even realize that the record of their use of these trails is posted publicly online and can be used in court against them? Oh they probably didn’t think about that!

Medical Insurance Invalid During the Commission of a Crime

One last thing you’ll want to do before venturing off on an illegal trail is to check your health insurance policy. Many insurance carriers have exclusions for benefits while you’re committing a crime. Imagine if you got hurt on an illegal trail: you would have to pay for fire rescue and maybe a helicopter ride, your insurance claim could be denied, and on top of it all you could face jail time and fines for your stupidity.

Is it worth a few minutes of joy to risk all of that?